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Roads to Nowhere

Ups and downs of the football season

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14 May 2013: Southampton fan, Matt Hemsley, on the ups and downs of the football season and the launch of our football research.

The end of the season is often an exciting time for football fans.  For many up and down the country, games have everything riding on them. Will we stay up? Will we go down? Will it be the playoffs this time around?

The tension, the nerves, the drama.  It’s unparalleled on these shores.  You only have to look at the remarkable conclusion of Watford v Leicester to see why we all love football so much (although Leicester fans may draw another conclusion).

But as if the drama on the field isn’t enough, the end of the season has just as much drama off it – but the sort of drama that isn’t enjoyed by football fans of all clubs.  It is, of course, the kick-off time raffle draw.

Now, it’s true that TV kick-off time changes impact across the season, but it’s these final few months when it takes a new dimension, with TV games selected as late as possible, meaning last minute arrangements and the advanced train fare gamble.

For home fans living in the city where their club plays the impact is lessened, of course.  But Sunday bus services are often less frequent, and there may be no public transport following a hastily arranged Monday night game.  For those who need to make special arrangements in those circumstances getting to the game can be made harder than usual.

However, for those of us travelling to home games and fans watching their team away the problem gets even worse.  The late announcement of TV games means that if you dare wait to see when you’re team is actually playing all the best train fares will have gone, meaning forking out or having to drive.

It’s just another of the issues that football fans have when getting to the game. However, now there’s another table to consider – in many ways there’s just as much riding on it. The Premier League Table produced by Campaign for Better Transport highlight how clubs are helping fans get to the games.

My team, Southampton, just about managed to stay up this season, but in transport terms we’re in Europe. We do some things well – there’s a sizeable bike rack at the ground – but the withdrawal of a shuttle bus linking the railway station to the stadium means we miss out on the elusive top four.

In Germany, football tickets often include n them the cost of local transport on matchday, meaning the cheapest and easiest way of getting to the game means leaving the car on the drive. That helps cut congestion, keeps costs down for fans and it’s good for the local economy, as fan arriving by public transport are more likely to enjoy a pre-match pint.

It’s time clubs and the authorities started taking matchday seriously – especially when games can be moved at such short notice, and to bizarre times, rendering public transport costly or impractical. For away fans, that might even mean a clear guarantee that advanced fares booked can be refunded or exchanged at no cost if a game is moved.

For home fans, it’s time we had a scheme where travel within the home city is part of the ticket, and valid for whenever the game is played. Otherwise, we’ll just keep encouraging football fans to drive into out towns and cities, causing congestion that could easily be avoided.

Matt Hemsley of Sustrans Cymru is a member of the steering committee for CBT’s football transport research.